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Featuring teen shows, sports shows, and coming-of-age shows
It's football season, but between Thursday Night Football, high school football on Fridays, college football on Saturdays, the NFL on Sundays, and Monday Night Football, there just isn't enough football! Fill those gaps like a linebacker on a blitz with The CW's All American, a football drama inspired by the life of former NFL player Spencer Paysinger that follows Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), an ambitious high school football star who moves from his own neighborhood of Crenshaw to Beverly Hills. Or if you've watched that, check out our list of shows like All American.
If you're a fan of any aspect of Spencer's story — be it the sports or community drama — there are plenty of shows that carry on similar themes that you might enjoy. We've dug through the vaults to find shows that fans of All American should watch.
(Note: The HBO Max series Genera+tion previously appeared on this list, but it was removed from HBO Max and is no longer streaming anywhere.)
Where All American chronicles (among other things) the ups and downs of high school football, its spin-off, All American: Homecoming, is all about college tennis. The story centers on a protagonist you'll be familiar with: Geffri Maya's Simone, who experiences a culture shock as she adjusts to life at an HBCU in Chicago, pursues her athletic dreams, and explores the new freedoms that come along with early young adulthood. This is a no-brainer watch for any All American fan. -Allison Picurro
Peacock's gritty, dramatic reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is kind of like All American with Philly accents. It has the same story as the iconic '90s sitcom that made Will Smith a star: Will (now played by Jabari Banks) is still a kid from West Philadelphia (born and raised) who gets in one little fight, scares his mom, and is sent to live with his auntie (Cassandra Freeman) and uncle (Adrian Holmes) in the wealthy Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel Air. It has all the characters you know and love from the original series, but modernized (Carlton snorts Xanax and Hilary is an influencer), and it spends a lot of time asking questions about class, race, and Blackness. It's not the most nuanced show in existence, but it might be entertaining to those of us who love a good high school series. -Allison Picurro
So, you're telling me that you enjoy All American, a TV drama about high school football, but haven't yet watched Friday Night Lights, THE TV drama about high school football? Rectify that immediately, please. In fact, if you like All American but would like a TV drama with even more football, you should definitely head down to Dillon, Texas, and meet Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler), the Dillon Panthers, and the East Dillon Lions. The beloved show's five seasons each follow one full season of football in a tiny Texas town where the high school sport is the only thing that matters. Of course, like All American, you don't have to love football to love this show. As long as you're down for the lessons people learn from being part of a team, small town drama, high school shenanigans, and one of the best and most authentic depictions of marriage on television, you will love this series.
How about a docuseries based in the football world? Netflix's Last Chance U, which ran for five seasons and expanded with a spinoff, Last Chance U: Basketball, has followed various junior college level football programs across the country as the students — many of whom were highly touted as players but faced disciplinary problems at more prestigious programs — attempt to perform both on the field and in the classroom in order to remain eligible. Most of the players have dreams of moving up to a Division 1 football program, and the compelling and highly bingeable series both celebrates their wins and gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look at some of the obstacles in their way.
Looking for another series about an athlete who has to continually prove they belong, but maybe in a little more grown-up way? Watch Pitch. The Fox series sadly only ran for one season, but there's lots of drama to dive into as Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) breaks boundaries by becoming the first female pitcher in the MLB. Like Spencer, Ginny isn't accepted by her teammates at first, albeit for very different reasons, and the series explores not just Ginny trying to perform at her best on a national stage, but also struggling with the pressure that comes with turning into a sports icon overnight, as well as some lingering family drama. But really, you'll stick around for the endearing, chemistry-oozing relationship she forms with curmudgeonly veteran catcher Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
Football may be the entry point for drama in All American, but it certainly isn't where most of the story takes place. The new Netflix reality series Titletown High is almost All American in real life, charting the daily on-field competition between high school players as well as their personal lives with girlfriends and parents, except instead of Spencer's journey from South Central to Beverly Hills, a star player leaves a glitzy California high school for a perennial title contender in Georgia. Unlike Last Chance U, Titletown High is specifically interested in the kids' messy romantic lives, making this more on par with a CW reality show than an Emmy winner, but that's exactly why it might scratch that All American itch. -Tim Surette
Although it became much soapier in later seasons, One Tree Hill started off mostly focused on half-brothers Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan (James Lafferty) Scott, learning how to play nice on the basketball court while pretty much hating one another. The way that Nathan — the rich brother who lives with his and Lucas's father — treats Lucas — who has a working-class single mother — is very reminiscent of how Spencer is treated by both Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) and even Asher (Cody Christian) when he first comes to town. Like the All American boys, however, the Scott brothers learn to trust and love each other. One Tree Hill becomes less about basketball and leans more into the primetime soap of it all as the show goes on (it aired on the WB and the CW for nine seasons), but if you're a fan of the genre and are cool with things like evil nannies and transplant organs being eaten by dogs (it's better with no context), then One Tree Hill will be a fun, dramatic ride.
Both All American and Netflix's dramedy On My Block feel like universal teen stories made highly specific by their setting. All American uses real neighborhoods — Beverly Hills and Crenshaw — to tell Spencer's story, and although On My Block's Freeridge is a fictional place, it's clearly a stand-in for a low-income inner city L.A. neighborhood. On My Block follows four friends whose relationships are tested as they begin high school in an area where gang violence surrounds them. It manages to both break your heart and make you laugh in the same episode and is full of characters easy to root for.
Euphoria is a much darker, grittier look at high school than a lot of shows on this list, and it seems like the teens on the HBO drama come from a different world than those on the CW. However, if you're moved by Olivia's (Samantha Logan) addiction storyline on All American, Euphoria explores that topic even deeper. The series has a large ensemble cast, but Rue (Zendaya in her Emmy Award-winning role) is at the center of it. When we first meet Rue, she's just returned from rehab, and we watch her relapse time and again as she tries to get herself together. It's an unwavering look at teen drug addiction, among many other things.
If you're looking for another high school show that doesn't shy away from confronting the socio-economic disparity within the education system or showcasing teens fighting for their rights to a good education, you should give Saved by the Bell a try. Yep, that Saved by the Bell. OK, well, not that Saved by the Bell, but the 2020 revival of the '80s and '90s sitcom Saved by the Bell. This time around, we follow sophomore Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) in present day as she and a group of students from a low-income neighborhood are sent to a school in a wealthier school district, Bayside High, after Governor Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) screws up the state's education budget. The show mixes its zany, fast-paced comedy with poignant high school stories well and you don't really need to be a fan of the original to hop into this new take on the series. Although if you are an old school fan, prepare yourself for lots of callbacks to the original SBTB, a reunion of Zack Attack, and some top-notch flirting between Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren) and AC Slater (Mario Lopez), who are now Bayside's guidance counselor and phys ed teacher/football coach, respectively.
Oh teenagers, god bless 'em. Netflix's Spanish series Elite kicks off in a way similar to All American: Three teenagers from a working-class neighborhood get sent to an, ahem, elite prep school. They are not wanted there and the hoity-toity rich kids let them know it (obviously, some of them fall in love because this is a drama, baby). Elite doesn't have a lot of sports (there is some light swimming), but it does have a lot of murder. Each season has a central mystery and flips back and forth in time between those trying to solve the mystery and the events leading up to it. So, if you like your teen angst and commentary on classism a little bloody and foreboding, do yourself a favor and watch Elite.
When Spencer arrives in Beverly Hills from Crenshaw, he doesn't get the warmest of welcomes. He's an outsider from a part of town that the rich kids at Beverly Hills High look down on. No one punches him in the face and yells "welcome to Beverly Hills, bitch" but someone probably thought about it. Now swap Orange County for Beverly Hills and all of that is exactly what happens to Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), our protagonist and another teen fish-out-of-water, on The O.C. There's no sports elements in the Fox drama, but there are a lot of thematic similarities between it and All American. In The O.C., Ryan is saved from doing jail time thanks to his court-assigned public defender, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), who eventually invites him to move in with his family. Like Spencer, there's a period of culture shock for Ryan, but what both these shows do well is depict a teen unsure of where he really belongs. Both Spencer and Ryan begin to feel at home in their new environments, but always feel the pull of where they came from. Plus, The OC has Sandy Cohen, one of the best TV dads in history, so there's that.